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Bible Commentaries

Dr. Constable's Expository Notes

Psalms 109

Verses 1-5

1. Lament over enemies 109:1-5

David asked God to respond to his prayer for vindication. He had shown love to an unidentified group of people, but they had returned hatred, lying, and evil. He did not avenge their injustice but pleaded with God to do so.

Verses 1-31

Psalms 109

This individual lament is one of the imprecatory psalms in which the writer called on God to avenge his enemies (cf. Psalms 3:7; Psalms 5:10; Psalms 6:10; Psalms 7:14-16; Psalms 28:4-5; Psalms 31:17-18; Psalms 37:2; Psalms 37:9-10; Psalms 37:15; Psalms 37:20; Psalms 37:35-36; Psalms 40:14-15; Psalms 54:5; Psalms 55:9; Psalms 55:15; Psalms 55:23; Psalms 59:12-13; Psalms 63:9-11; Psalms 64:7-9; Psalms 71:13; Psalms 79:6; Psalms 79:12; Psalms 139:19-22; Psalms 140:9-10). [Note: See Day, "The Imprecatory . . .," pp. 176-80.]

"Whereas Psalms 88 is preoccupied with the absence and silence of God, Psalms 109 is concerned for vindictiveness toward other human beings who have seriously violated the speaker. I group them together because I believe the two psalms embody the main problems of Christian faith: the problem of trusting a God who seems not available, and the problem of caring for a neighbor who is experienced as enemy." [Note: Brueggemann, p. 81.]

Verses 6-15

The psalmist prayed that God would do several specific things to avenge him. He asked God to return what his enemy was doing to him back on himself. He wanted a wicked man to oppose and accuse him. He wanted God to judge his enemy guilty and put him to death. He also asked that God punish his wife and children for his wickedness. In the future he hoped no one would remember him and that he would have no descendants. Having one’s family name terminated was considered to be a great tragedy in the ancient Near East. [Note: See Childs, p. 71.]

It seems inappropriate for David to ask God to punish children for the sins of their fathers, since God specifically forbade this in the Mosaic Law (cf. Deuteronomy 26:12-14). Perhaps David prayed contrary to God’s will, allowing his hatred to get the better of him. Even though the Bible records many things that it does not condone, there is nothing in this text that would suggest that David was not praying in the will of God. Another explanation is that he was praying in hyperbole. In other words, he did not really mean what he was saying but used extreme language to communicate his strong feelings. However, he did not just make one statement about his enemy’s wife and children but developed this desire in considerable detail. This seems to indicate that he meant what he said. I think the best explanation is that David’s concern in these requests was his enemy rather than his enemy’s wife and children. He said what he did as a punishment on his enemy, not because his hatred of his enemy extended to his wife and children. David seems to have been anticipating various consequences that his enemy would experience because of God’s judgment. [Note: See my comments on the strong language in the imprecatory psalms at the beginning of these notes.]

"One might think the punishment should be confined to the individual and that his family should not have to suffer for his crimes. However, in ancient Semitic thought a man and his offspring were inseparably bound together so that the actions of the former could influence the destiny of the latter. Of course, one sees this principle at work in the world every day and, not surprisingly, it permeates the Bible as well." [Note: Chisholm, "A Theology . . .," p. 280, n. 35.]

Verses 6-20

2. Imprecations on foes 109:6-20

Verses 16-20

Here David gave reasons for his preceding requests. His enemy had practiced all the things David had asked God to do to him. He mercilessly persecuted the needy and the afflicted. He loved to curse other people rather than blessing them. Therefore the psalmist asked God to clothe him with cursing as with a garment and to make it as a belt that surrounded him always. Another interpretation is that the wicked man’s love for cursing was so much a part of him that David described it as if he wore cursing as a garment. [Note: VanGemeren, p. 694.] Psalms 109:19-20 are probably a prophetic statement rather than a continuation of the imprecation. [Note: Kidner, Psalms 73-150, p. 390; VanGemeren, p. 694.]

Sometimes David spoke of his "enemy" and sometimes of his "enemies" in this psalm. Evidently more than one person was in his mind. He may have spoken of an enemy in the singular when he thought of one of his enemies, perhaps the most hostile one. On the other hand, he may have used the singular to represent all of his enemies (a collective singular).

Verses 21-25

David asked the Lord to deal with him in harmony with His loyal love: for the sake of God’s reputation, David’s need, and the sinfulness of the wicked. David had sought to follow the Lord faithfully, and God had promised to bless people who did that. However, David was not experiencing God’s blessing. This made other people question God’s justice and faithfulness. If God would again bless David and curse his enemy, this would show onlookers that God’s promises are trustworthy. In these verses, David described how he felt in his downtrodden condition.

The Israelites usually practiced fasting (Psalms 109:24) for spiritual reasons, rather than for physical reasons like losing weight. They went without food and sometimes drink, temporarily, to spend that time in a more important activity, specifically: seeking God in prayer. Therefore we should probably understand David’s reference to fasting as including prayer. He had prayed earnestly about the situation this psalm reflects. His extended prayer and fasting had made him physically weak.

The people who reproached David (Psalms 109:25) were evidently his enemies. These are the other people in view throughout the psalm.

Verses 21-31

3. Request for help 109:21-31

Verses 26-31

David called on Yahweh to save him from the distress in which he found himself-in a way that would teach his enemies that God had delivered him. This would vindicate David, and all he stood for, in their sight. Again he asked God to shame his accusers and thereby signal divine disapproval of their opposition to God’s righteous servant. David concluded with a confident assertion that God would indeed vindicate him. This would result in the psalmist thanking and praising the Lord.

Believers can pray for the vindication of righteousness with good precedent in the psalms. With the light of later revelation, we understand better than David did, that God will not always vindicate the godly in this life, but He will do so eventually (Deuteronomy 32:35; Romans 12:19; et al.; cf. Acts 17:30-31; Revelation 7:17; Revelation 21:4). In David’s day and in ours, God normally vindicates the righteous before they die, but His decision to postpone vindication often makes it appear that He is unjust (cf. Job). David’s "bottom line" concern in this psalm was the vindication of God Himself (Psalms 109:31), but he also wanted relief from his oppressors. [Note: See E. Calvin Beisner, Psalms of Promise, pp. 161-82. See also Thomas L. Constable, "The Doctrine of Prayer" (Th.D. dissertation, Dallas Theological Seminary, 1969), pp. 12-13.]

David did what we should do: he turned his enemies over to God. We can pray that God will punish the wicked because He has promised to do so, but we should also ask Him to bring them to salvation (e.g., corrupt politicians, crooked business men, drug dealers, terrorists, et al.). Peter applied Psalms 109:8 to Judas Iscariot (Acts 1:20), to whom Jesus had previously extended grace.

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Bibliographical Information
Constable, Thomas. DD. "Commentary on Psalms 109". "Dr. Constable's Expository Notes". 2012.